The past few months have been a tear-stained blur, but in looking back through my notes, I realize I totally missed a faux-food holiday Rommy would have adored; National Jell-O Week. More critically, the first day of the jiggly holiday fell on Rommy’s birthday, February 8th. I would be totally remiss in not mentioning my mother’s connection to gelatin and also my own.
The jello of my youth was neon colored, eaten with a spoon from individual Pyrex dishes. Occasionally it was topped with a generous swirl of Reddi-wip but generally it was just a dish full of quivering color, punctuated with imitation fruit flavor and sugar overkill. Jessie generally served up dishes of Jello as a lightning quick dessert fix to accompany cookie sheets full of cookies. Often, Jessie couldn’t leave well enough alone- armed with a rotary hand held beater, she would whip the still-liquid Jello within an inch of its life, creating an aerated, chiffon-y bowl of Jello fluff. It was surprisingly delicious, slightly less jiggly and tempered the brazen color of the dessert, softening it into more of a pastel shade.
Rommy’s association with Jello was more akin to the Ladies’ Luncheons hosted by her mother Dorothy. Mama Dorothy loved to entertain, and based on photographs and a box of intricate place cards unearthed in Rommy’s breakfront, it appears the dining room was a very busy place. A table covered in monogrammed linens, set with luncheon size silver and plates, often featured an abundant centerpiece of fruit suspended in Jello. Apparently individual, shimmering Jello molds set at each place were also quite popular. Dorothy and the women of her generation embraced aspics and gelatin salads. I know this, because I have inherited the gelatin molds that once housed celery jello spiked with ribbons of cucumber and flecks of carrot. I also sublet valuable kitchen shelf space to a deeply fluted Jello mold, (complete with a cover) used specifically for Rommy‘s legendary, holiday Jello offerings. There’s a version that features cranberries for Thanksgiving, and there’s a gelatin salad that is spiked with beets and horseradish to be served at Passover. The one that we associate with Rommy and the deeply fluted mold (that once belonged to Dorothy) is composed of wild blueberries and requires a generous helping of sour cream. Exactly how much sour cream and how many boxes of Jello? That’s a very fair question.
As my siblings and I continue to empty out my mother’s apartment, we wade knee deep through files. Many of the sage green hanging files are filled with recipes, designated to various holidays. Jello plays a prominent role in both the Thanksgiving and the Passover files, and with each re-writing of the recipe is just the slightest tweak of the ingredients. Sometimes there are very specific weights and measures, often times it might just indicate, “one container of sour cream, two boxes of jello.” We have learned through trial and error that not every container of sour cream, nor box of jello is created equally and have had to adjust accordingly. Prior to February, we would simply call my mother on the phone and get the particulars. Not only the recipe particulars, but a good dialogue with up-to-the-minute details of nothing in particular. Those breezy conversations are what I miss most these days.
My mother would be pleased to know however, that her Jello-lore is safely ensconced in several files, in more than one home. As of this writing, Blondilocks speaks fluent J-e-l-l-o and is well versed in deciphering all of the details. We are unafraid when a handwritten recipe is vague in specifying the exact size container of sour cream because my mother, in Jello, as in life, taught us well.